The Alchemy: How People Turn Pain Into Art
Atlanta-native H.D. Hunter is an author and activist who has dedicated his craft to impacting the minds of today’s generation. “We must not only imagine our deepest desires but also put passionate action behind our creative ideas in order to design a better world for ourselves and those around us.” His submission provides a glimpse of his struggle with depression and grief and highlights how his most recent project Torment: A Novella has brought another level of self-awareness along his mental health journey.
The other day one of my Twitter followers said, “people can really turn pain into art.” I quoted the tweet and responded with one word:
— H.D. Hunter Ⓥ (@hd_tsd) November 5, 2018
(Source: @rachaekxss via Twitter)
It wasn’t so long ago that I remember not being able to turn my pain into anything except more pain. Stuck in a whirlpool of guilt, doubt, grief, and hopelessness, I think I most lamented the fact that I would never be able to feel how I felt again before the depression.
I wasn’t sad for the past me. I was sad (and embarrassed) for the current me. Sad that my photos would reveal a lack of illumination behind my gaze – a glint forever gone. That my smile would only crease, and not beam, always fearful and aware of the unfair reality that
Safety seemed such a cruel facade. Why do the work, the soul-crushing, unforgiving work, to be happy when it could all be snatched at any moment?
* * *
“How did Daniel die?” he almost whispered. All the kids in the class were around the same age, 12 or 13 maybe. But he was so small and so meek in his questioning that he seemed much younger. I stammered for a moment, unsure of what he truly wanted to know.
His teacher came to my rescue. “In your book, Daniel, the main character’s younger brother, dies, but you don’t describe how. Many of us were interested in why his death was shrouded in mystery, even though it was a central occurrence in the book.”
I gave an answer that I am proud of and that I believe in. The question itself reminded me, though, of why I was there in the first place. Why it was important for me to be there.
The stigma surrounding mental health in minority communities is no secret. I’ve been surrounded by death and grief my entire life, but nobody ever taught me about it. I lost my closest friend in 2016 and it completely shattered my world. In the aftermath of grief, work, failing, and finally healing, I decided to use my newfound vision to do my part in helping equip our communities with something useful.
I write books for young people, and as much as reading is entertainment, it is also an intimate, personal form of learning and development. With a quiet mind, we find ourselves between the pages in many ways that we cannot otherwise. They asked me why I wrote a book for black and brown boys and girls about death and coping and healing. My response was simple: because I never read one.
Creating a piece of art that would allow young people to explore very tough concepts and conversations, without the burden of telling their own story, but with the freedom to relate it to their lives – that became important to me. Discussing and analyzing the lessons in life no one necessarily prepares you for, in the comfort of a familiar and learning-driven space, with support from professionals and peers – that is what I wanted. That is a piece, however minor, of what we need.
We are all working to achieve the same goal. Mental health professionals must work with teachers who must work with artists who must work with businesses who must care enough to invest in communities to make sure that as time passes, our generations gain more than just than just the passage of time. We are moving more and more steadily toward a complex global environment where triggers abound and trauma is real. But we can prepare for it, if we work together.
It has a complicated history. Generally, it gets described as a pseudo-magical practice of transforming common things into valuable ones.
I’ll tell you what’s what, related to healing. It damn sure isn’t magic.
But it is worthwhile. Transforming pain into something greater is worth it; creating an armor for others forged from the very torment of your own wounds. It is not only noble. It is necessary.
Why be happy? Because you deserve it. And your loved ones do too. The people you’re raising. The people who raised you. We all build and break each other.
To learn more about H.D. Hunter, check out his website and don’t forget to cop his latest work Torment: A Novella.